Cape officials express interest in former federal building

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Mayor Harry Rediger

The former federal courthouse may soon have a new suitor, with Cape Girardeau officials saying Tuesday they are interested in the building for a variety of possible city uses such as law enforcement, municipal courts or perhaps even a replacement for city hall.

But Mayor Harry Rediger said he won't do anything to undermine the efforts of the Cape Girardeau County Commission, which is also still weighing its interest in the building at 339 Broadway.

"We're really just sniffing around," Rediger said. "I can't take this too far, because the ball's in their court. If they decide they want it, I'm not going to step in front and get in a bidding war."

Rediger is interested, though, in exploring all options, including a joint venture with the county that could have the entities sharing space, he said.

Rediger said he believes the building should house government offices of some sort.

"For the benefit of the city and the benefit of the downtown area, I feel strongly that some sort of government entity needs to get their hands on that building," he said.

The Cape Girardeau City Council intends to tour the courthouse sometime this month. Rediger has spoken with Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy, and more meetings with the commission are expected on the building.

The future of the courthouse is still uncertain after a judge's decision in December ruled out the Rev. Larry Rice's plan to use the 42,000-square-foot federal building as a homeless shelter. That ruling cleared the way for the commission to acquire the property, but now commissioners are exploring other options as well.

Commissioners last month asked state legislators to change a law that requires the county to have courthouses in Cape Girardeau and Jackson. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to change the wording of the law from "shall" to "may." Commissioners say that would untie their hands and open the possibility of building a new, centralized courthouse in Jackson or to buy the former federal building to possibly replace county office space in the Common Pleas Courthouse.

Commissioners said Tuesday they were open to discussing the future of the courthouse with city officials.

"We are interested in what the city's interest in the building would be," Tracy said. "We're trying to take this one step at a time. We're concerned about maintaining two courthouses, and we're weighing the financial ramifications of that."

Commissioner Jay Purcell said the first thing they have to do is determine whether the county wants to pay to maintain two courthouses. If the law is changed to allow the county to have only one, then they can take a serious look at all options, including the former federal building.

But Purcell has made no secret of the fact he believes a close look will show it to be less expensive to build a new courthouse than to buy the former federal building and house two courthouses.

"What's so good about the building that the county would want it?" Purcell said. "We'd be spending a large amount of money buying it and remodeling it. It's not a perfect fit for us. But our first question is, do we need two courthouses or one?"

City manager Scott Meyer said the city could possibly use the federal building for city court, police department use, code enforcement or perhaps even a replacement for a city hall building.

The current city hall at 401 Independence St. is cramped, has no elevator and does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A nearly $4 million addition and renovation of the existing city hall has been on the city's Capital Improvements Program since 1994.

The city will also look at an option that would allow it to buy the former federal building at a reduced rate, Meyer said. The U.S. General Services Administration, which owns the building, offers up to 100 percent discounts if the building is put to a "good public use," Meyer said.

Meyer said the building comes with other challenges, such as nonexistent parking and the cost of maintenance and remodeling.

Rediger said it was too early to say what would happen to the existing city hall if the federal courthouse is used as a replacement.

"But the federal building definitely would have some advantages over our existing courthouse," Rediger said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

339 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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